Sen. Arlen Specter used his nod from President Obama to connect with students on campus.
With the 2010 midterm elections quickly approaching, senators and congressmen with primary challengers are becoming more active in defending their seats.
Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, one of Senate’s longest-serving sitting members but its newest Democrat, serves as no exception.
Temple’s College Democrats welcomed Specter to a town hall meeting Friday, where he spent nearly an hour fielding questions from a group of approximately 50 students, many of whom were political science majors.
“My goal in this was to make sure students had their voices heard,” College Democrats President Dan Dunphy said.
To avoid what he perceived as an unwinnable primary race against former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey of Allentown, who postponed his own visit to campus last week, Specter changed parties in April. Now, he must fight to defend his Senate seat from Rep. Joe Sestak, whose seventh congressional district accounts for most of Delaware County. The winner will face off with Toomey in the general election next November.
Although Specter’s nearly four-decade-long tenure has helped him in the race thus far, polls indicate that the Sestak campaign may be gaining momentum, trailing by a mere four percentage points in an Oct. 15 Rassmussen poll of 469 likely Democratic primary voters. Specter criticized the polling organization for being “notoriously unreliable.” In a Susquehanna poll, however, numbers were also bleak – only 31 percent of Pennsylvanians voted that Specter deserves to be reelected.
But if Specter is nervous about his reelection prospects, he did not indicate as much during the late-afternoon town hall meeting.
Foregoing his jacket early on, he exuded a sense of confidence and ease and solicited laughs from attendees 60 years his junior with a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humor.
And with endorsements from President Obama, Vice President Biden and Gov. Rendell, he has reason to be confident. Obama voiced support for Specter since he cast the deciding vote on the President’s stimulus bill, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Speaking to a room of college students, a demographic which overwhelming supported Obama in his presidential bid last year, Specter used the endorsement as a key argument when asked about the primary race, mentioning Obama a dozen times by name.
He also cited his extensive experience in foreign affairs, saying that “Afghanistan is indispensible in the war against al-Qaida.”
When questioned on what would constitute a victory in that war, however, he fell short of articulating concrete goals or when troop levels might begin to recede.
But Specter also addressed issues of domestic policy, among them being healthcare reform.
“I think we’re going to get a bill with a robust public option,” he said. “I’m for the public option … choice is good.”
When Barry Scatton, president Temple College Republicans, questioned Specter on the cost of healthcare reform, the senator responded that he is “committed not to vote for a bill that raises the deficit.”
Specter went on to explain that money saved preventive medicine, living wills and tougher prosecution on Medicare and Medicaid fraud would allow the bill to be deficit neutral.
Although Scatton later indicated that he was overall satisfied with the response, he pointed out that Specter seemed to contradict himself in a subsequent answer.
“When [Specter] answered another student’s question [regarding Specter’s opposition to the 1993 healthcare reform bill], he said he opposed it because of the bureaucracy it created,” Scatton said.
Specter’s rationale, Scatton said, was inconsistent.
As for the economy, Specter touted his vote on the stimulus bill, voting 20 times to increase the minimum wage and, when it was brought to his attention by Student Senator Max Cuddy of the College of Liberal Arts, said HR 3221 “sounds like something I’d vote for.”
The bill, which is endorsed by the Temple Student Government and recently passed on the House floor, would increase Pell Grants by cutting federal funding to student loan companies.
Donald Hoegg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.